It’s often said that pop culture fails to provide inspiration to aspiring engineers. While movies and television shows routinely depict cops, doctors, and lawyers, they seldom show engineering professionals.
We’ve attempted to capture a few exceptions to that rule. In truth, Hollywood occasionally writes engineers into movies or television plots. In some instances -- such as The China Syndrome, Flash of Genius, and Apollo 13 -- engineers serve as central characters, or even as stars.
From James Stewart and Jack Lemmon to Ed Harris and Leonardo Dicaprio, we provide a look at some of the most notable. Click on the photo of Jack Lemmon below to start the slideshow.
Jack Lemmon was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of nuclear engineer Jack Godell in the 1979 movie, The China Syndrome. The film was met with backlash from the nuclear power industry, but Lemmon’s attempt to distill a technical problem into a brief soundbite near the end of the movie is unforgettable. (Source: movieactors.com)
The movies seldom show engineers doing tsting because the assumption is that everything works the first time. That is probably why a lot of people think that engineering is not such a big deal. And of course one does get "a bit spoiled" when things do work right the first time. But I did have a boss who explained to me that it was expected that every design would work right the first time, that was why I was there. It was certainly flattering but also it did add to the pressure quite a bit, knowing what the expectations were.
Actually, I have been wondering how close a screenplay is to the very detailed functional specification of a human interface controls program. That is, the specification that describes each screen, what the choices are, and what the program does, for each step of operation. That may be a liitle like the description of what each scene should look like, and what happens as each line is said. Or possibly not.
You're right, BrainiacV, testing isn't a suject that gets shown in the movies. No Highway in the Sky with James Stewart includes testing as kind of a sub-text, but even in that movie, you don't see much actual test.
I can't forget Dr. Holly Goodhead who was in Moonraker as a CIA agent, astronaut and scientist. Maybe not a full engineer but an example of the whole line of Bond films (and some Bond girls) who were very accomplished technically prior to their meeting James.
Its a bad line but do remenber "Q" at the end of the film as they establish video of the two of them in a weightless environment saying "I believe he's attempting re-entry". Engineers do have libdos, too.
THAT is an interesting concept, Charles. But I suspect that writing screenplays and scripts is a lot harder than writing screens and functions for control programs. For starters, nobody would ever want to spend an hour starting a process or a machine. But the two do have some simularities.
But I think that I will keep my writing on the technical side. I can do that fairly well, I don't know how I would do with scripts and screen plays.
Yes, engineers have been inaccurately depicted in movies on a regular basis, William K. Surprisingly, the movie industry is aware of this problem. A few years ago, the American Film Institute hosted classes in script writing for scientists and engineers. I don't know if any of the scripts from those classes ever made it to the sliver screen, though.
I read the book, but never saw the movie. I guess that the one character was an engineer but that seemed just incidental to the plot.
The problem with accurately depicting engineers in movies is that either they would be boring or come across as know-it-alls, neither of which would be accurate. And in other instances they are depicted as being horribly unfeeling in the name of efficiency. At least that has been my recollection.
Design engineers need to prepare for a future in which their electronic products will use not just one or two, but possibly many user interfaces that involve touch, vision, gestures, and even eye movements.
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